Five stellar South African wines
Wine drinkers typically skew into two categories: those who love the taste of dirt, and those who are all about big fruit flavors. Put another way, the first group consists of peeps who worship at the altar of everything old world, including wines from across the pond (read: Europe), usually in a style focused on expressing the unique terroir and classic characteristics associated with a given grape variety; vintners tend to make wine "in the vineyard," letting the weather dictate matters and basically doing as little as possible to tamper with the results that nature intended. Conversely, fans of new-world bottles crave the pronounced, juicy ripeness generally found in wines that hail from the decidedly warmer climes of regions like California and Australia.
Old world plus new world equals stellar South African wine.
But what if there was a place that turned out delicious, value-priced juice that featured the best of both wine-world styles -- and in so doing, positioned itself to win the hearts of wine lovers of every stripe? Say hello to the fantastic wines of South Africa.
Robertson Winery Chenin Blanc 2010 ($10): Chenin blanc is one of "those" grapes. You know, the kind you can never remember if you've had before, or what the hell it tastes like, exactly. If you're into wines from the Loire Valley, then you might at least recognize the variety as the one that bottles labeled "Vouvray" are made from. And if somehow in your wine explorations you've stumbled upon something called "steen" (an old-school word for the grape), well, you'd be right as well.
Robertson Winery Chenin Blanc -- a fresh take on a classic grape.
South African winemakers are mixing things up, though -- for starters, they're all pretty much calling it chenin blanc now, and the approach taken with this particular bottling is just as fresh. The first whiff served as a delicious sneak preview of what it would taste like: fresh honeysuckle and white flowers, followed by the snap of lemon. On the palate, the citrus trend continued -- at first clean and fresh, but with a finish that went all creamy and rich. Your days as a card-carrying member of the chenin blanc fan club start now.
Groot Constantia Sauvignon Blanc 2011 ($18): People who love sauvignon blanc are perhaps the very best example of the whole old-world/new-world debate. That's because the grape's expression veers dramatically from its ancestral home in France, where it's all about gravelly, soil-based mineral notes and tangy citrus, to more modern provenances in places such as New Zealand, where adjectives like "gooseberry" and "green pepper" are used to describe the wines' flavor. Groot Constantia, the oldest wine estate in South Africa, brilliantly delivers the ideal mashup of both styles in this delightful offering. The nose was an ode to all things Sancerre, full of limestone and lemon curd and tingly acidity. But the taste? Solidly new world -- an assault of kiwi, freshly-cut pineapple and pear fruit flavors that lingered delectably.
The perfect old world-meets-new world mashup: Groot Constantia Sauvignon Blanc.
This was a wine so intriguing we could see ourselves sipping it throughout a meal, rather than relegating it to pre-entree (standard white wine territory) only.